For some, the room assignment is the critical piece to the social jigsaw puzzle they complete during their four years on the Hill. Some of these students are legacies or have siblings who are Oles. They've been hearing nostalgic "Glory Days" stories for decades, and were raised on nightly lullabies of "Um Ya Yas." They want to live in Mohn, because their parents remember hiding in the Mohn closets while ditching chapel in the 70s, or in Hoyme because their brothers once crushed beer cans with their bare fists as proud members of Hoyme's first floor "ghetto."
Unlike many college campuses, St. Olaf students have the privilege - or curse, depending on who you're asking - of available on-campus housing all four years they attend St. Olaf. This arrangement produces some idiosyncratic Ole behavior: Twenty-two year olds hide the alcohol they can legally consume outside their pods in Ytterboe, whole groups of students live together based on the academic "conversations" in which they participate and residence halls transform into mythological neighborhoods with reputations that can be as damning and fateful as sitting at the wrong cafeteria table your first day of junior high.
By now, even first years can describe St. Olaf dorm reputations. During Week One - otherwise known An awkward week of hellish social encounters - first years learned cheers, rhymes and mottos about their dorms ripe for t-shirt screen prints.
Here's what any first-year could tell you: Ellingson is for the smart kids; Mohn for the partiers; Hoyme has partiers, but sometimes, they're a little more churchy; the Kitt kids live so far away they have a different voting district; and finally, Kildahl kids are like perky campers, always gushing about how their cramped quarters result in just as cramped cliques of friends that never separate during their four years on the Hill.
And don't forget the upperclassmen dorms. Larson is where everyone wants to go, centrally located, prime for all those Kildahl corridors transformed into the more sophisticated "sextets" or "octets." Thorson is haunted, but a sturdy staple of campus life that houses the juniors who prefer Northfield to London or Paris. Mellby is haunted too, not only by ghosts, but by the apparitions of kids who can't live too far from the Science building. Rand is cool, though it looks like a retirement home. Finally there is Ytterboe, with the elusive romanticism of its apartment-like pods; Ytterboe is a mecca where all previous dorm reputations can finally be forgotten.
Maybe dorm assignments and reputations mean so much to Oles because upon arriving on campus, students are asked to call this new place home. The sort of home where you live with a stranger, shower communally, and have to decorate hallways for the holidays. Well, home it ain't. Instead, Residence Life would do better telling a more brutally honest version of campus life to first years on their red cards in August. It could go something like this:
"Hello, I apologize. Why am I apologizing? Because this year is going to be a year of great transition in your life, and years from now, you'll remember only positive things about the building that encapsulated, literally, your first-year experience. But during the next nine months, especially during the first eight weeks on campus, you will have moments where you will truly believe you'll never find the right group of friends.
You will envy your roommate or neighbor because he or she gets asked to the right parties, or the athletes because they took care of their social life as soon as their names were added to the roster.
You will be lonely, and loneliness is made worse when you're surrounded by other people who seem to be smiling, thriving, surviving. But don't worry, they feel a little of what you're feeling - if not now, then in a few months. Good luck! We promise that it will get better, but we're not going to lie to you; it sort of sucks to be you right now."
Like getting branded from the wrong side of the track, some students feel robbed of the perfect dorm experience during their first year. "Kittlesby wasn't special. It just wasn't very social," Alyssa Kleven '07 said.
Residence Life makes mistakes when it assigns rooms to first years. The random jock gets recruited to join the Reb-ELL-ion, the Campus Crusader has to brush her teeth while fellow first-year girls sober up in Mohn showers after a night at the Legion, and everyone seems to wonder, "Do I really belong here?"
The answer is "yes." Dorms have reputations at St. Olaf because the collective student body is made up of such strong and diverse personalities. All reputations begin as an exaggerated characterization of the truth. Sure, there are nerdy Conners in Ellingson, but there are also rooms filled with countless others who defy their dorm reputations.
It is the strength of students' characters that leave impressionable images on residence halls, not the other way around. If you're stuck in a dorm where you think you might not belong, heed the advice of Lauren Henkel '07: "Humans, especially Oles, are adaptable creatures. Who's to say the Ellingson boy and the Mohn girl can't eventually find love? Reputations are even more fun when you prove them wrong."
Any upperclassmen can tell you that Oles can find happiness even if the dorm they live in wasn't their first, second or fourth choice. If you find yourself in a dorm fiasco, meet new people, collect new stories, and leave your own impression in the hallowed halls of your dorm like a graffitied message in a bathroom stall. Besides, without dorm reputations, what else would we have talked about at the Kildahl dance?